How tall are you? At 6’1”, I’m neither tall nor short, just sort of 6’1”, with somewhat long arms (35” shirt sleeve length) and an fairly erect stance – age hasn’t quite caught up with me yet.
In preparing to write this piece, I gave some thought to the height of various furniture pieces in my house and office and how I feel about each of those pieces. Never really having given much thought to this, I learned a few things:
- The standard height of a dining room table is between 28” – 32”. In fact, this is called “standard height” or “regular height tables.” They work well with chairs, stools, and benches in the range of 18” to 23.”
- The standard height of an office desk is 29” – 30.” Of course, this is just the height of most desks at your office furniture store; some will be taller to accommodate taller customers. The right ergonomic configuration for a desk and chair in the office will depend on the leg room required, and of course, this is also variable and customizable with an adjustable chair, too.
At each of these, we customarily sit. But, at a woodworking shop bench, we customarily stand. The exceptions might include drafting plans for our next project, or doing fine work up close, where we might want to be sitting. But, otherwise, we’re standing:
- For assembly
- For cutting (miter saw, for instance)
- For cutting (with a workpiece in the vice at the end of the table)
- For hand planing or sanding
- For gluing and clamping (tabletops, for instance)
- For drafting our next project’s plans
And all of the other customary work in our shop at a bench. None of these are eating (dining room table) or typing away on our keyboard or laptop (office desk).
So, what’s the ideal height for a bench in our shop? Shouldn’t it be a comfortable height for the most common tasks we will use our bench for? Is there such a thing as an average workbench height as there is for dining room tables and office desks?
What Should We Consider When Choosing a Workbench Height?
At the dining room table, we eat; at the office desk, we work. Yes, we sit, but those are the purposes, and we want to be comfortable when eating and working.
The same consideration applies when choosing the height of the workbench you want to build for your shop – comfort while performing your most likely tasks at it. What are those tasks?
We consider these to be the most common tasks we use our workbench for, and we want to be comfortable while doing each of them.
We don’t want to have to bend over too much and strain our back; we don’t want to have to reach too high and cause arm fatigue. We want the work to be at a height that allows our elbows to rest on the table, perhaps, without having to bend or hunch over too far or reach up too far. Comfort is the rule.
Is There an Average Workbench Height?
Not all of you who are reading this piece are 6’1”, and who knows what the height of the average woodworker is (nor does it matter). This would tend to suggest there is no average workbench height.
In short (no pun intended), then, the workbench should fit the woodworker. At 73 inches tall, and with elbows 36 inches above the floor, my bench needs to be a little bit above what I would consider “average” height to accommodate my elbows comfortably when I need to have them on the bench top without having to bend or hunch over too much.
Yet, I don’t want the bench height to be at my elbow height, either, because some of the work on that list will require a bit of arm movement freedom if you know what I mean. And I also don’t want it to be too low since a bit of height is better for power tool use on the bench.
If we had to suggest an average workbench height, we’d say something in the 34” to 36” range. A little taller might be better for that power tool use and for finer detail work like chiseling to round off edges or using a coping saw for some detailed cutting. A little shorter might be good for heavy work – something needing to be lifted and where we want to be able to bend our legs a little for the lift.
Our Rule of Thumb For Workbench Height
With a variety of tasks to be performed on the workbench, from heavy to light, to detailed and fine, we’d be comfortable within that range of 34” to 36” to match our elbow height from the floor.
Bending or hunching over would be minimal for the occasional heavy lifting (lower bench height is better for getting the legs involved), and reaching up just a little for power tool or detailed work wouldn’t put a strain on the shoulders.
Stand at your dining room table and “feel” what it’s like to lift a plate; then, measure your table height. With 32” being at the higher range for dining room tables, it will give you an idea of what it would be like to have that height for your shop bench.
If you’re under 73 inches tall, it might feel pretty comfortable for you, while it would be a bit too low for me. That will point you in the right direction.
Comfort should be your guide.
Building Your Workbench
Once you’ve decided on the right height for you, the design and method of construction becomes the next decision. You want your desk to be solid and versatile, and you also want the benchtop to be level. We’ve some thoughts on the former and a suggestion on the latter.
Adjustable Height Workbench
With the variety of work you’ll be performing on the bench, wouldn’t it be great if the height were adjustable? You don’t need hydraulics for this, of course, but how about integrating a motorcycle lift that, with a ratchet or power drill bit, can be raised to lift the workbench top to meet your occasional higher needs? Very doable, as you will see in this short video we found.
That bench even had wheels for easy mobility throughout his garage workshop. He sourced them on Amazon and their locking system is easy and simple.
Level and Solid Workbench Top
You could simply lay a 1” piece of plywood as the top for your bench, but for a large surface, this would not be ideal. Better to lay that plywood sheet on a torsion box.
Just in case you aren’t familiar with a torsion box, we wrote a piece about them recently, and you’ll find that piece here.
The strength of a torsion box will serve you well and, when properly constructed, will keep your benchtop level and sturdy. It models the torsion box-type construction of the floors in your house and the wooden deck out back. If you’re not familiar with the concept, be sure to read our piece on it.
The right height will make a big difference in moderating any back or shoulder pain while you’re working. It will also make your work easier – power tool use, detailed work, making notes, and drafting plans all become simple when they are at the right height.
While there might be a general rule of thumb for workbench height, it really is more a matter of your height and arm’s length. There isn’t a one size fits all rule here – there is only your rule.
Build your own workbench and make it yours. Your back will thank you, and you’ll do good work on it. Wouldn’t an adjustable height workbench be cool?